An interview with Emma Mae Jenkins, Author of Be Loved
Being a teen is hard. Pressures to fit in, conform, and be the best push in from every direction, even from within. Yet, each and every person was uniquely created by a God who loves them. Emma Mae Jenkins, a young writer, and social media influencer wants to reach teens with exactly that message. She has inspired thousands of girls online with the freedom she has to be herself—a dearly loved child of God. In her first book, Be Loved, she invites readers to join her on a journey of life-changing faith and the freedom that comes from knowing the love of God.
She chronicles her own high school journey through starting a new school, navigating the typical pressures of school work and sports, going to prom, and even homecoming. Emma Mae faced each new challenge with the confidence that God was with her and was going to make her uniquely useful in the place he had prepared for her.
For Emma Mae, it all starts with her relationship with Jesus. Because she knows she is loved by him, she is free to be herself and to live out her faith no matter what the cost. As a young, passionate, and intimate lover of Jesus, Emma Mae’s love for her Savior overflows unashamedly into her unconditional, fierce love for people.
In our interview with Emma Mae, we talk about her faith, the challenges she has faced, and the message she wants all teens to hear.
New Growth Press: Be Loved chronicles your high school years. Junior high and high school are difficult years for everyone, but what are some of the challenges that made it particularly hard for you?
Emma Mae Jenkins: Walking through junior high and high school most definitely does have its difficulties as everyone is discovering who they are and making choices that truly do have a great impact on the future. For me, sometimes it was hard to have people respond to the joy that lives within me, the smile that I couldn’t help but share, and the voice that God has given me with confusion or laughter. This may seem small, but I really began to learn how to be who God had called me to be, even when the response was not the most inviting. It is really cool how we never actually know the beauty God is growing within someone, so to plant the seed of a smile or to water someone’s soul with encouragement is to be obedient to the Father. The response of the person may not show what I would love to see, but I trust God is doing in their heart what only he can do.
Moving during high school was also pretty tough. I was afraid of not making close friendships worried about what people were going to think of me. But God led me. his grace sustained me, and he gently reminded me his love casts out all fear. Love is not self-seeking, so when I was worried about making friends and worried if I was going to be thought of well, I was not operating out of love but out of fear. I cannot love people I fear. When his love is what I chose to abide in, I could not help but focus on how I could serve others.
NGP: You write that you tried to be gracious, kind, and loving to others, but you didn’t treat yourself the same way. Why are we so hard on ourselves?
EMJ: We tend to be hard on ourselves when we misunderstand grace and misinterpret the voice of the Lord. It is by grace we have been saved, through faith, and this is not by our own works (so that we cannot boast), but it is a gift from God. Grace is unmerited favor. It is a gift given to me that I do not deserve, so of course we are going to be hard on ourselves if we are living to earn something that cannot be earned.
My life is not a race to earn the love, attention, and affirmation from God, but my life is a response of gratitude and obedience because Jesus died for me. This is why I work wholeheartedly. This is why I smile. This is why I don’t quit. This is why I write books and make videos, sing songs and post captions on social media. It’s not to earn, but it is a response to his gift.
The voice of the Lord is a voice of peace and clarity and truth and order. He speaks to us in a way that does not bring us to shame but compels us to walk in the light as he is the light. When I am walking with a mentality of accusation, confusion, condemnation, chaos, and defeat, I know I am listening to the voice of the enemy, not of my God. Growing familiar with his voice requires time spent with him. I am hard on myself in a way that brings me to shame when I am not listening and believing the voice of the Lord.
NGP: What’s so wrong about striving for perfection?
EMJ: To have the mentality of striving for perfection is to depend on ourselves to be enough for God to use us, love us, want us, etc. This completely disregards the beauty and power of why Jesus came. We cannot ever be good enough to get to God, that is why he came to us.
This does not mean that I stop working hard and doing my best. God says to live a life in a manner that is worthy of the gospel. He says to work out our salvation with fear and trembling as he gives us the power and the desire to do what is good and what is pleasing to him. He says that whatever we do, we need to do it wholeheartedly because we are doing it for him. He says to not grow weary of doing good. I am not saying that because I live in the works of Christ, I no longer have to be a hard worker. Not at all. But what I am saying is I now work hard to glorify the Father, to bless his people, to show gratitude for his love for me. I no longer have to work hard to prove my worth because my worth is in Christ.
Many of us also strive for perfection to receive the approval of people. However, if you look at the life of Jesus, he truly was perfect, but there were still those who loved him and others who hated him. We are not here for the approval of people, but for God’s. Only in him is our worth and identity solid and whole.
NGP: What are the first steps toward young people developing their own faith rather than the faith of their parents?
EMJ: I remember my dad simply telling me it was important that I personally know Jesus. So, the first step is to ask themselves if they know him. Have you personally confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that he rose from the grave? Do you seek him first and spend time with him apart from simply going to church with your family on Sunday? Do you pray apart from mealtimes at the table? These are questions I would encourage anyone to ask themselves because a relationship with Jesus is something no one, not even my parents, can have for me.
No one’s faith can be lived through the life of another. People will walk alongside me, encourage me, challenge me, and sharpen me in my faith, but they cannot be the source of it. My dad told me he will not be standing with me, holding my hand when Jesus comes back. It would be only me and Jesus.
NGP: Bullying is a major problem in schools today. In fact, you experienced your fair share as well. Why were a target, and how did you handle it?
EMJ: The bullying I experienced was online via social media, and it continues still in waves. It was and still is because the One living in me was not understood, was not known. Sometimes people scoff at what they do not understand. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within in me; and therefore, I cannot contain he who is joy and peace and power and love and light. The people of the world would love me if I belonged to the world, but I am simply in the world; I am not of it. He said if the world hates you, remember they hated him first.
I handled it by surrendering it. When my heart is overwhelmed, God leads me to the Rock that is higher than myself. I could not handle it on my own—I needed him and always will. Through him, I hid his Word in my heart, trusting he spoke over me before the world ever had an opportunity to. I had people in my life who walked with me and reminded me of truth. They continued to be the light of the world with me. We were not made to do life alone, so I needed my community. Through God’s eyes, I could simply see the people hating on me did not know how loved they were, so it was a beautiful chance to love them. God has said for me to love my enemies, pray for those who curse me, and bless those who persecute me. I can only do this when I know he loved me first. When I begin to see myself the way God sees me, I can then see others the way he sees others too.
NGP: Why is it so important to start the day in prayer and in God’s Word? How do you encourage teens to get into that routine, since most young people (and a lot of adults too) are not usually morning people?
EMJ: In Mark 1:35, Jesus rose very early in the morning, went to a quiet place, and prayed. Jesus lived in such a way that we are called to live as he did. He set the example. In Matthew 6:33, God says to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, so this means he is worthy of the first part of my day. How we begin our day determines the posture of our heart as the day goes on, so to be armed with his Word and encouraged in talking with him in prayer sets myself up for success and deepens our relationship with him.
As soon as I walk into the day, I know an enemy who has a target on my back is out to steal, kill, and destroy me. He is the father of lies and is out to devour, so I am setting myself up for believing the lies and being attacked off guard when I do not prepare for battle by spending time in conversation with my Defender and hiding his Word that will not fail me in my heart.
I encourage everyone to cultivate this rhythm. We make time for what is most important to us, so if I truly am saying God is most important to me, then spending time with him is more important than the snooze button. It is more important than my feelings of tiredness or morning moodiness. He is simply more important, and the more I do it, the more I will grow in love with this time. Delighting in him outweighs not being a “morning person.”
NGP: So much of life seems to revolve around being online. What are some tips for developing authentic relationships with those around us?
EMJ: Our generation is definitely immersed in a culture of technology, and there are so many beautiful things about it. I initially got an Instagram account for the purpose of staying in touch with my friends because I moved quite a bit growing up. Later, social media became a way to share the gospel with people all over the world whom I have never had the opportunity to meet. It is quite remarkable the impact of technology.
Still, face-to-face, arms-linked relationships are vital. Solomon said, “Woe to the man who falls and has no one to pick him up,” and “just as iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another” (Ecclesiastes 4:10; Proverbs 27:17). James said that when we confess our sins to one another we will be healed. Paul said to continue to build up one another. Jesus said to love our neighbor as he loved us, and he prayed for us to be united. In the beginning, God said it was not good for Adam to be alone. Our God is the God of relationships. We were made to be in relationship with him and with one another.
Here are some tips for developing authentic relationships:
- Seek God first: When I seek his kingdom first, my relationships are going to reflect him too.
- Be humble: It is important to consider others above ourselves and to have the heart posture of a servant when building relationships.
- Encourage others: Seek to build up your people. See the beauty in people and speak it out over them so it may benefit them. Celebrate their victories and mourn with them when they are hurting.
- Be vulnerable: The level of vulnerability in what you share and with whom comes from discernment the Spirit gives, but I cannot expect authentic relationships to go deep and bloom if I am not willing to be honest and vulnerable. I cannot expect deepening when I stay on the surface.
- Be intentional: In order for authentic relationships to be built, one must be intentional to work and invest into fostering that relationship. That may be sending an encouraging text, planning to get together for a coffee visit, or praying for one another.
NGP: What are some ways teens can be light in the lives of those they come in contact with at school? How can they be an encouragement to others?
EMJ: What we fill ourselves with is what we think about. What we think leads to how we act, and after a while that is who we become. As we think, so are we. Teens can make an impact in the lives of those they come into contact with at school by choosing to be in the Word, being intentional about the music they listen, being thoughtful in regard to the shows they watch, and being purposeful in who they hang out with and allow to influence them.
Psalm 1:1–3 (ESV) says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”
This is basically saying we are blessed, and we are a blessing when we are particular about who influences us and by meditating on the Word always. I am a light and an encouragement to others when I fill myself with his Word. I cannot expect myself to be like Jesus in the lives of people around me when I am not spending time with him and am listening to things and watching things that are against his heart.
I am also a light and encouragement to others when I am around those who glorify him. If I hang out with the foolish, I am going to become foolish. If I hang out with the wise, I am going to become wise. Spending time with friends who encourage and sharpen me will equip me and build me up to be a bold light in the darkness to the precious people that do not yet know him. When I am intentional about who I let influence me, I can walk confidently in how I influence others.
NGP: What is the secret to not being discouraged and comparing yourself to others?
EMJ: The secret to being content in who you are and where you are is to rest in the truth of what God says about you. It sounds so simple and some say it’s a cliché, but to say that is to forget the power of his Word. Who he says you are is unchanging and never ending. Who he says you are is personal and on purpose. When we begin to see ourselves the way he sees us, we will then also see others the way he sees others too. God made each of us to be original and reveal his heart in a unique way, so to compare ourselves to one another only leads to discouragement.
Begin to praise God for the beauty you see in someone else. Celebrate them in ways they do not even see, such as how you think about them. Ask the Lord to help you be confident in who he made you to be and to also rejoice in how beautiful he made others to be.
NGP: Why is it important for each of us to embrace the unique person we are?
EMJ: God says we are his masterpiece, so when we embrace who he has made us to be, we are embracing who he himself made in his image and said was very good. For us to embrace all that he purposefully knitted within us, is to also embrace all he has for us and wants to deliver through us. When I am embrace who God says I am, I am able to lead others to realize the true beauty that God placed within them. I cannot lead from a place I have not been. In this example, I cannot lead others to be who God has called them to be if I myself am not daily surrendering to embrace being who he has called me to be as well.
God wants to be glorified through every part of who we are. He wants to be praised through the strengths and gifts He has entrusted us with. The weaknesses in us are what he sees as opportunities for his glory to shine through. To not embrace all that I am in him is to miss out on a lot of beauty and excitement that he wants to reveal to me and through me.
It is so important because it glorifies him for me to embrace the unique person that I am.
NGP: What is the main message you hope young women will take away from reading your book?
EMJ: I pray that young women will receive and respond to the message that God is pursuing their hearts. He desires to be in relationship with them personally, and from an overflow of this relationship, may they live boldly and freely in who he says they are. I hope they love others just as they themselves have been loved. May they be loved.
Emma Mae Jenkins chronicles her own high school journey through starting a new school, navigating the typical pressures of school work and sports, going to prom and more. Readers will learn to face the challenges of their student years with faith, courage, hope, and lifegiving love for others.